Once upon a time, the opening sequence of the typical primetime television series (dramas, in particular) was a showcase for both its success and its heritage. And it set the tone for the entire series.
The original version of serialized drama Dallas is one such example, with a cascading title sequence (amid a pulsating theme) exhibiting the location and the lead performers. Crime solvers Magnum, PI, Miami Vice and the original Hawaii Five-O were equally memorable (with the current version of the Honolulu-based series fondly recreated). Then there was that “girl that made it all,” Mary Tyler Moore, throwing her beret up in the air in the streets on Minneapolis on sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Also notable was The Wonder Years, which offered the perfect blend of 1960s nostalgia through the lens of Super 8 home movies.
With time came change, and network executives hungry for additional commercial time (translation: greater revenue). So, what was once a staple for those classics from yesteryear often became nothing more than the opening credits blended into the first scene. But there are still exceptions.
Flash to the present, and these exceptions, now with more progressive graphics and special effects at their fingertips, each offer a story behind the imagery. And three such dramas, Counterpart on Starz, Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access, and Altered Carbon on Netflix were showcased alongside its creators in “The Art of Title Design” session at the 2018 PromaxBDA Conference moderated by Emmy winners Ellen Kahn and Lynda Kahn, each a co-founding partner and executive creative director for TWINART, Inc.
”One of the great joys of being in this business is being able to get inside the mind of the showrunner, in this case Justin Marks” said Karin Fong, director and designer, Imaginary Forces, who spearheaded the title design for Counterpart.
Described as a science fiction thriller, the setting on Counterpart is Berlin, where a Cold War experiment gone awry made an exact copy of our world, reachable through a passage in the basement of a government office building.
“Counterpart is the story of a parallel world; it is a world that has split apart with espionage and sci-fi vibes,” explained Fong. “After speaking with Justin Marks, who called Counterpart the story about the templates of destiny, I envisioned a visual metaphor for a go game that was splitting in two directions.”
“One of the first things we did was visit the set of Counterpart and take a ton of photos,” she added. “It was fantastic how many patterns there were. Many of the structures we used were based on the architecture of Berlin.”
Ana Criado, creative director, Prologue Films, who created the title sequence for Star Trek: Discovery, explains that everything starts with a visit to the set. “That is an important moment to see the visuals and open your mind for ideas,” she said. “You must do your research, particularly for something like this which has multiple series in this universe, because you do want to recreate anything that was done before. For me, I decided to get rid of everything and create a sequence explaining the passion of all the elements.”
“The storyboard is the guide that I always follow,” she added.
Lisa Bolan, creative director, Elastic, was the force behind the title design for Netflix’s Altered Carbon, which takes place over 300 years in the future where death is a thing of the past. “From the very beginning, we wanted the imagery blended into technology, where the carbon ignites a forms a type of circuitry,” she said. “And we then had to figure out how to show someone’s skin molting.”
“Each project is different, each story is unique, and the goal creatively is to focus on the essence of the storytelling,” she said. “For the viewer this is their first glimpse into the series. And, for us, this is our chance to tap into what should be the tone of the series.”